From the Arctic to sobriety to El Salvador

In El Salvador, Steve Keogh found the meaning of the phrase in the giving, you receive.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

In El Salvador, Steve Keogh found the meaning of the phrase 'in the giving, you receive.'

June 18, 2012
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

After decades of living in darkness, Steve Keogh moved into the light and dedicated his life to bringing hope to those who have none.

Keogh grew up a child alcoholic, never smiled, people avoided him and he contemplated suicide often.

But he told people at the Edmonton Catholic Charismatic Prayer Breakfast, June 9 at the Chateau Louis Conference Centre, that God can restore them and that he never gives up on anyone.

Now the only thing he wants to do for the rest of his life is to build houses for the poor and tell people about God's great love for them.

"My mission in life is to carry a mission of hope," said Keogh, aged 60. "I had no hope, and I know what it's like to sit in darkness, to have no hope of anything ever changing, where death is your only solution."

He cries when telling his life story before a crowd, and labels himself the "weeping prophet," assuring people that his are tears of joy, not tears of defeat.

As a child, he lived with his family on a small lakeside farm in Quebec. His father rented boats to vacationing U.S. fishermen. Most of the fishermen kept alcohol in their vehicles.

While they fished, Keogh stole booze from their cars. At eight years old, alcohol was the answer to his problems and he took it wherever he could find it.

"By the time I was 13, I sat down behind the old well at home and I tried to cut my wrists with a broken Pepsi bottle.

"I didn't really want to die. I just wanted someone to notice that I was confused, that I felt out of place, that I didn't belong, that I was different from my brothers and sisters."

Keogh joined the military while young and intended to accomplish good things, but liquor always sidetracked him. He was a good soldier, but mostly because he wanted to die. So he would put himself in harm's way on purpose. Every morning that he woke up in his barracks, he was angry to still be alive.

Once, after a day of drinking, he and three other men were in a car. His friend was driving drunk when he lost control of the car. Keogh spent a year in the hospital recuperating from serious injuries.

In court, to protect his friend, he said another fellow in the car was the driver.

FIVE MORE YEARS

"It was the only time I ever put my hand on a Bible, swore to tell the truth and didn't. I couldn't live with the guilt. I ended up spending another five years of uncontrollable drinking," said Keogh.

After he left the army, he married and fathered two children. He always told his wife that he was going out for one drink, and she would plead with him not to go.

"She knew better. She knew that I would end up in jail, the hospital or in a ditch somewhere.

"But I never made it home again after that one drink," said Keogh.

He ran away to the Arctic, landing a job with the department of public works in Frobisher Bay, NWT. He had a good job, a place to live and money to spend on booze. Whether doctors, teachers or lawyers, most of the people he met there were alcoholics.

"I never had to feel ashamed because at the end of a drinking evening, everyone was lying on the floor. There was no one to look down on me, to point a finger at me, to tell me that I was no good, that I would never amount to anything," said Keogh.

At age 24, while in his room, however, the Lord changed his life. He started reading a book by Merlin Carothers called From Prison to Praise, a biography of an ordinary man used by God for extraordinary things.

SOBERING FACT

The book sparked Keogh to the realization that he would never have to drink again. He has been sober ever since, and he soon left the Arctic.

He heard the Lord tell him to be on the front lines, to reach out to those who are broken, the people that the world has discarded. He was only 25, still felt like a kid, was still in recovery from alcoholism and had no idea how to socialize.

Yet he did his best to fulfill God's plan. He counselled at a group home for teenage boys in Williams Lake, B.C. Later, he was a pastor at a church in Cambridge Bay.

Eventually he became active in helping the poor. He has built homes in Germany, Poland, Ukraine and China. Most recently he has assisted families in El Salvador and Haiti that are desperate to provide adequate shelter for their children.

His second wife is Esmeralda, a woman he met in El Salvador. She and the people he met there taught him how to truly live.

"I was always worried about money, worried about not having enough. They taught me that in the giving, you receive. I was told that my whole life, but I had to go to El Salvador to find its true meaning," he said.